KHICHAN IN RAJASTHAN IS KNOWN LOCALLY AS 'THE PARADISE OF THE CRANES'. Once in position early next morning, on the rooftop of one of the houses overlooking the famous walled crane-feeding compound, masala chai and biscuits to hand, the first of several thousand cranes started to appear on the horizon. Each morning the cranes alight on open ground around the town until they are almost all assembled and then their leader of the past few years (at least) ‘broken-leg’ decides it is safe to land. This amazing creature has migrated across the Himalayas at least four times since I last saw him/her with a dangling leg creating what must be an incredible drag on an already exhausting migration. ‘Broken leg’ circles the compound several times before landing, this time despite a daring feral moggy that was trying to catch the pigeons, which are also attracted to the free meal of grain. Eventually the cranes are more or less all crammed inside the compound, jostling for position to eat the grain put down for them by the Jain villagers, a practice that has continued here for over 150 years (the grain is now put down in the evening after the cranes have departed for their roosting grounds and it is ready for them immediately in the morning). Their elongated secondary plumes forming interesting patterns as they fed. Images alone do not do justice without the whirring of wings overhead and the deafening cacophony of the excited cranes. Whilst ‘paradise’ is wide of the mark, the cranes of Khichan are certainly one of the most amazing ornithological spectacles of the world. As always it was time to leave all too soon and make our way to Jodhpur from where, following an unsuitable flight schedule change, we had a long and rather grim drive along a so-called highway to Delhi, ready to start the next stage of our Indian adventure.
Viewing entries tagged
NORTH OF GUJARAT LIES RAJASTHAN, HOME OF BRIGHT COLOURS and impressive moustaches. En route to the desert city of Jaisalmer, we spent some time walking the length of Shiv’s main street taking photos of the Rajasthani people in the market there. Toyota Innova MPVs have transformed road travel in India and this journey, albeit quite long at nine hours was again a pleasure compared to the 12 hours of slow-moving bus torture the first time I did it. On the other hand, Jaisalmer is sadly not the evocative desert fortress that it was on my first visit in the 1990s, now that more than 2500 wind turbines surround it. Unfortunately I am yet to see the fort there lit up by a golden sunset on this tour, in my last four visits the sun has dipped prematurely into either rain or dust clouds. In the evening we made a short visit to the desert festival and together with thousands of local people we enjoyed watching some local musicians and dance acts. It was a little bizarre to be herded into a foreign tourist pen and forced to sit down to watch the performances. Next morning we took our usual city tour of golden sandstone Jaisalmer, starting with the Jain temples in the old fort, then continuing on to a city view point, the old havelis (intricately decorated former merchants’ houses) and finally ending up at an excellent fabric shop where the ladies battered their plastic!
The streets of Jaisalmer are packed with interesting people and things at which to point the camera and a few hours hardly do it justice. Jumbled shops, ornate temples, weathered faces, huge moustaches, bright colours, fortress architecture and numerous wandering animals provide at least one million interesting subjects. Jaisalmer thrived during the height of the silk trade but with the partition of India in 1947 all cross border trade ceased and it became a sleepy backwater at the end of the line. The rise of tourism has changed its fortunes recently along with tensions between India and Pakistan, which has resulted in a large military presence here. Again as usual, we saw many Indian Gazelles (or Chinkaras) on the journey to the east through the Thar Desert, which is unsurprisingly the world’s most densely inhabited desert, on our way to the small town of Khichan. We paused for photos of these as well as a gang of vultures, crowded around the carcass of a dead cow near the town of Phalodi. Following the disaster of Diclofenac, almost all vultures in this area are now winter visitors from further north in Asia and this flock comprised Eurasian Griffons and at least ten impressive Cinereous Vultures.